There was at least one New York kid passionate about the Browns back in the ’80s. Yeah, my family were huge Giants fans, so we watched Phil and LT and Tuna every Sunday on the hulking, wood-paneled Zenith with wheels. But for an elementary school kid like me there was something really cool and unique about the Brownies back then.
Before NFL Sunday Package, Red Zone, internet, or even cable in our house, there were only the Giants, Jets and Monday nights for me to watch. Figuring out what was happening outside those three games was the territory of that little scoreboard once per half on the bottom of the screen and if my dad taped George Michael’s Sports Machine for me to watch the next day.
But every January I got to see the Browns in the playoffs, and nothing draws an eight-year-old in like adults in cartoon dog masks chomping Milk Bones. This sounds more improbable than the plot of The Martian, but for 5 straight years Cleveland was in the postseason. And three of those ended just one step from the Super Bowl. Every winter I could sit in the Dawgpound via that Zenith television.
So I loved Webster Slaughter’s end zone dance, and Bernie Kosar’s sidearm, and fans throwing dog treats at Hanford Dixon and Frank Minnifield like wedding patrons throw rice at the bride and groom. I loved the cavernous, dark, muddy Municipal Stadium. I loved the all white uniforms (who did that?), and the helmets with no logo (who did that?). I stomped away when Ernest Byner fumbled. I was sunk when Elway ripped them to shreds in the ’89 AFC title game (c’mon Bud Carson). I felt robbed in ’88 when Jerry Glanville’s Oilers gloated over a 24-23 playoff win because Clay Matthews fumble recovery should’ve never been whistled dead. I was a kindred spirit when Bob Trumpy yelled and screamed about highway robbery in the NBC booth. None of this seemed very fair.
It’s been a long time since Browns fans felt like their football fate was fair. I’m not a Browns fan, but I feel for them. I wish Cleveland had a champion, that one of the world’s most deserving fan bases would just get a competitive team with semi-competent management. The last 15 years have been a flaming bag of fertilizer.
I’ve been roped into optimism about the Brownies before. I may just be setting myself up for humiliation again. But it does feel like there’s reason for hope this week. First, the hiring of Hue Jackson is a solid move. There seemed to be other options for him since he interviewed with multiple teams. If a hot commodity like Jackson (who was somehow fired after a single 8-8 season in Oakland) chooses the Browns, it gives the gig credibility. He also appears to have started setting the roster in his own vision. He reportedly requested to cut bait with Johnny Manziel (understandably), and it looks like he’s getting his wish.
The early read is the front office targeted Jackson and is willing to give him significant influence. That’s a huge departure from what has been a never-ending parade of guys who tripped and fell into the job. Were Chud or Pettine targeted by the Browns, or just last man standing at the Cuyahoga County Fair pie-eating contest?
Secondly, the Browns may finally have decision-makers who are self-aware. Bud Shaw at Cleveland.com described the reputations of Sashi Brown and Paul DePodesta as “smart enough to know what they don’t know.” This is always the toughest find with ego-soaked, highly-scrutinized positions in sports. Everyone desperately needs to show how brilliant they are (we’re looking at you Mike Shanahan, Scott Pioli and Brian Billick). DePodesta is a specifically intriguing hire. He’s a new-school baseball analytic in an old-school football world.
The NFL has needed a modernization of its stodgy convention for years. The college game looks like a sport from Neptune compared to what we watch Sundays. The Browns have been some of the worst transgressors. When was the last time anything within the organization seemed fresh, revolutionary or merely not from Blanton Collier’s dusty notebook? There’s very few risks taken in the NFL (outside of Jamarcus Russell and Manziel). Too few jobs, too much money on the line. But a different perspective, a new set of eyes on old problems would seem to be the exact thing the Browns have lacked.
Finally, having the second pick in a draft is enormous with at least two potential franchise quarterbacks (Jared Goff and Paxton Lynch). The Browns also have #32, because the Patriots were docked theirs via DeflateGate, and the Browns are at the top of round two. This is far from a guarantee of riches considering Cleveland is in this mess from botching innumerable high picks (and the Manziel/Justin Gilbert draft may go down as the franchise’s worst first round ever). But the ammunition is there for some major talent acquisition.
The old proverb says it is always darkest before the dawn, and it has been an airtight cave of black for years in Cleveland. No light. No sound. No hope. But maybe, just maybe, the new Browns will look good even on an old Zenith. There’s reason for (guarded) optimism in the Dawgpound.
D.A. hosts 6-10pm ET on the CBS Sports Radio Network. He has hosted The D.A. Show (aka “The Mothership”) in Boston, Miami, Kansas City and Ft. Myers, FL. You can often catch him on the NFL Network’s series “Top 10.” D.A. graduated from Syracuse University in ’01, and began looking for ways to make a sports radio show into a quirky 1970’s sci-fi television series. Follow D.A. on Twitter and check out the show’s Facebook page. D.A. lives in NYC, and is a native of Warwick, NY.